BENTON – District judge Nancy Rosenstengel denied a former crew member's request for a judicial notice determining what constitutes a thunderstorm in a suit alleging he was injured while working on a boat during severe weather conditions.
On April 12, Rosenstengel denied Ryan Ruddell’s motion for the court to take judicial notice that “thunder accompanies lighting, and a thunderstorm is a storm accompanied by thunder” in his case against his former employer, Marathon Petroleum Company LP.
The court ruled that the parties may present evidence to establish the weather conditions at the time of the incident, according to court records.
Ruddell filed the suit on Nov. 11, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois against Marathon Petroleum, claiming he was injured when the boat he was working on sailed into inclement weather that was too severe for safe navigation due to storm and lightning conditions.
While working during the severe weather on Aug. 27, 2014, he claims he was injured due to overexertion. Ruddell argues that the storm and lightning conditions contributed to his injuries.
Marathon Petroleum denied Ruddell’s many requests for its understanding of what constitutes a “thunderstorm,” including his requests for admissions that a thunderstorm is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning and that every thunderstorm produces lightning, according to court records.
Ruddell then turned to the court, asking it to take judicial notice of the terms.
Judicial notice "substitutes the acceptance of a universal truth for the conventional method of introducing evidence,” according to court records. When a court takes judicial notice, a court is required to instruct the jury to accept the fact as conclusive.
To back his claim that a thunderstorm is a storm accompanied by thunder, Ruddell offered various dictionary definitions of thunder, as well as an interrogatory response by Marathon Petroleum stating that "Defendant's understanding of a thunderstorm is that it is a storm accompanied by thunder," according to court records.
Marathon Petroleum argued that taking judicial notice of these supposed facts would skew witness testimony about the weather conditions at the time of Ruddell’s alleged injury.
The court declined to take judicial notice.
“Although his intentions are unclear, it appears to the Court that Ruddell is attempting to somehow demonstrate that MPC must be liable for his injuries if lightning was present at the time of the incident because MPC has a rule against working in lightning conditions,” the court held.
While the court agreed with Ruddell that it is generally “beyond reasonable controversy” that a thunderstorm includes thunder and that thunder follows lighting, it also agreed that judicial notice may mischaracterize testimony by Captain Michael Scott.
Scott referred to a thunderstorm on the day of the incident, but further stated that lightning doesn’t need to be present for a thunderstorm to occur. He also testified that though there was heavy rain while the crew was working, there was no lightning until the crew was back on board the vessel, according to court records.